September 30, 2004


I told you Italians are cool...

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September 26, 2004


I found common ground with a porcelain artist in Nove, Italy.

You all know that I love my identity as a military wife, but the worst feeling in the world is that split second right after you have to answer the "Why are you living in Germany?" question. You never know what to expect from your European questioner. Most often you get that "oh", that bit of surprise that you're not here to bum around Europe "finding yourself" by getting drunk with Australians. Sometimes you get that recoil, and you feel the mood of the conversation change. Sometimes you get the look of pity, like it must be so miserable living under the thumb of the New Hitler.

And sometimes you get the, "Sure, I know where you live. I used to train in Grafenwoehr when I was in the Italian military."

Mom and I had a wonderful talk with this porcelain artist, and we could find enough common ground to really try to understand each other. He confessed to full support of the war in Iraq -- he likes the flypaper concept -- but admitted that he doesn't always think President Bush is best for the world. He he thought that a president who would kiss France's butt a little would be better for other countries in the EU. I can see where he's coming from: As an American, I don't give a flying leap what France and Germany think, but I can now see better how the smaller EU countries do have to play the cooperation game, even though this Italian man rolled his eyes and agreed that it was farcical. Mom was extremely forthright and asked him many questions to which I feared the answers, but we learned a lot from him, and hopefully he from us.

So I didn't get to meet Serenade, but we met his kindred spirit.

Overall, I found Italy to be quite pleasant. All of the people we met seemed to be genuinely happy to meet us Americans, and one of them even went on and on about how much she loved Wisconsin. Really. I've never heard a foreigner speak of anywhere but NYC, LA, or Vegas. The loving way she spoke about Wisconsin was quite touching.

The Italians also seemed thrilled that I had spent a day teaching myself a bit of Italian. All I did was teach myself a bit of non parlo italiano and quanto questa, but I guess the effort went a long way. I found the language to be quite easy to pick up, albeit on a superficial level. I crutched on my French and guessed by saying the latin root with an Italian accent a couple of times and managed to get along quite well. I also had a not-ugly-American moment when we wanted to ask a shopkeeper a question and my Italian simply wouldn't do: we asked if he spoke any English, and he shrugged apologetically and said, "Non...Deutsch." Well then, I thought, and asked the question auf Deutsch. Heh. And I speak two other languages that didn't even enter into the picture, buddy. Now go tell your friends that there are Americans who aren't monolingual jerks.

The Italians loved pointing and whispering about my American-issued license plate, I ate the same pizza at the same restaurant three nights in a row, it was that good, and I burned a ton of gas driving up and down those mountains. What a week.

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In a normal week, I drive perhaps 15 or 20 miles. This week I drove 1300. In a normal week, I do three things: work, knit, and blog. This week I didn't do any of those activities. It was a week of doing things that were out of the ordinary.

I painted my fingernails. That may not seem so exciting, but I realized that I hadn't made the time to do that small task in nearly a year. I read 500 pages of my book. I worked obsessively on this puzzle. I went to see this man. I bought a set of these. And when I walked out of our residenza, this is what I saw.


We went to a ski resort in September. There was no snow, there were no people, and there was nothing pressing to do. The resort owner seemed embarrassed and apologetic that we had come at such a boring time, but it was exactly what I wanted. For me, a true vacation is about doing nothing. I did a lot of nothing this week; it was wonderful.

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September 17, 2004


Amritas weighs in on subtitling Fahrencrap 9/11 into Farsi at the screening in Iran. I started emailing him but then decided to post my thoughts here too. When I lived in Angers, there was one movie theater that didn't dub movies, and that was the only one we ever went to. I saw some pretty interesting movies with French subtitles, and I can certainly say that there were numerous jokes that went right over their heads. Often they didn't even bother to try to translate stuff. Some movies just don't translate well: The Big Lebowski, Buffalo 66, and Smoke. The subtitling for these movies was pitiful; there's no way the European viewers got even half of what we got out of the movies. We would be cracking up, and they'd stare at us like we were nuts. And that's just the actual dialogue; the culltural references didn't make sense, even to the English-able Brits. There's one scene where these gangstas come by the store, and the Brits were laughing at them: "They don't look so tough; I bet I could take that guy," they said. An American friend dared them to come to her neighborhood in the States and roll up to a character like that!

On the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, there are snippets of dialogue from the movie. My French roommate in college borrowed the CD from me and was visibly shocked when she heard the diner dialogue, you know, the one with the "sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie" bit. She made me play it over and over again, repeating the dialogue more slowly so she could understand, and she swore up and down that she had never heard that in the French version she saw. She claims that the exchange never even happened, not even something similar to it. I've always wondered what the French version of Pulp Fiction was like, but I've never seen it myself.

Maybe on the next trip over the border.

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September 09, 2004


Blackfive points to an op-ed called A European Conversation. I've certainly been there and had that conversation, and I sure wanted to bust their chops too. He also points to an article about how one in five Germans wants the Berlin Wall back. I know of at least two Germans who blame all their country's economic troubles on the former East. I can't say if they're representative, but they make no bones about how they feel towards the former East freeloaders.

Incidentally, I thought Europeans in general were against walls. I guess they're only against one of them.

Blackfive ends by pointing to a Kim du Toit post about how warmly he was received in Paris. Many of the commenters echoed his sentiments; I wish I had been as lucky as they were. I majored in French and studied it for 8 years before moving to Angers. I won all sorts of awards in high school and won French Student of the Year in my college. I placed into the top level of French study when I moved there to study abroad, and I found the French to be quite rude to Americans. They would pretend not to understand me, even with the simplest sentences. (How hard is it to figure out that I'm asking for stamps when I'm in the post office?) Our teachers would praise the Taiwanese and Japanese speakers and then cringe when the Americans spoke and say things like, "Oh, you really need to get rid of that horrible American accent." Some landlords even banned English in the home, even when three English speakers lived together. Once when four of us Americans were walking down the street, a French person started yelling at us for speaking English to each other, telling us to go home if we wanted to speak English.

My experience with my extended family is the only thing that redeems France for me. They have never been anything but kind and encouraging. I wish I had met them first instead of the awful people I met in Angers.

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September 08, 2004


When I was 18, my grandmother gave me an address for a distant relative in France and asked me to write to him. He and I corresponded for two years, and then when I lived in France, I went and met him and his brother. I returned a few months later with my mother and uncle, at which point they rolled out the red carpet in our ancestral village and we drank champagne with the mayor. After a disappointing year of study in France, I came home, changed my career goals and really felt bitter towards all things French, even my distant family. However, I wrote a month ago about how this kind man passed away recently and how I regretted letting politics get in the way of family. So Mom and I packed up and went.

First of all, I can't believe it takes five hours to drive across an entire country. My husband and I lived five hours apart while we were dating! Mom and I traversed all of Germany and crossed the border to find a freaking plethora of roundabouts. I had forgotten how much the French love their roundabouts. (Unfortunately, on the way there, Mom and I took three lefts off these roundabouts and ended back up in Germany!) We made it safe and sound back to see the family I had neglected for so long.

And the reunion was a wonderful one. My French was a little rusty, but one of my "cousins" had worked for a year in the US, so he helped with the translations. We ate, we chatted, we met even more extended family, we ate some more, we hugged, we laughed, and we ate again. They invited me for Christmas, and I just might consider it.

I swore I'd never set foot in France again, but I'm glad I went.

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